Operation Midland and the Assumption of Guilt

operation midland paedophile hysteria

We know exactly what the road to Hades is paved with.

The unravelling of Operation Midland, a costly, and thus far fruitless, investigation into a suspected “VIP paedophile ring” has exposed how easily discarded the presumption of innocence – that most precious of rights – is when paranoid politics and hysteria direct the course of justice.

After all “presumption of innocence” like “free speech” is not (as I have said before) “an incontrovertible law of physics”. If it is not actively observed as an essential part of due process, it will simply disappear.

Which was evinced by the mistreatment of Lord Bramall and others, accused of perpetrating appalling sex crimes against children in the 1970s, who were investigated as part of Operation Midland.

Many have questioned the evidential basis for these accusations. An investigation by the BBC into Operation Midland raised some serious issues with the case and how the police have handled it. In particular, the unreliable testimony of one of the accusers, referred to anonymously as “David” who told the BBC he had been pressured into naming certain high profile politicians, such as the late Lord Brittan, by “political campaigners” (it wasn’t specified precisely who these “campaigners” were).

Disproportionate weight was given to this questionable testimony (amongst others), which seems to have been the primary impetus behind the £3 m police investigation.

Our institutions are never more vulnerable than when in the throes of a moral panic.

This follows a cultural shift in the Met towards “believing the victim” in sexual assault cases. In 2002, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement, which said that police officers should regard allegations “made by the victim in the first instance as being truthful”.

In 2014, Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary said, “The police should immediately institutionalise the presumption that the victim is to be believed.”

Though it may be well-intentioned, Winsor’s remarkable statement represents a categorical switch from the presumption of innocence to the assumption of guilt. With predictable results: witch hunts and wrongful accusations.

The police appear to have adopted this policy to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward without any fear that they won’t be believed.

Indeed victims should be assured that their testimony will be taken seriously, but only to the extent that the police endeavour to investigate it with complete professional impartiality, not to take it at face value as “truth”.

This proved disastrous for the recent case of Mark Pearson, a middle-aged London artist who was charged with groping a total stranger whilst he walked through Waterloo station.

Though CCTV footage showed that it would have been physically impossible for him to have done so, police and the Crown Prosecution Service decided to pursue a case against him, purely on the say so of his accuser.

He has since come out publicly with his story, which nearly amounts to persecution, so weak was the case against him.

Have the police been captured by our culture’s valorisation of “victimhood”?

It’s very possible. That, combined with a neurotic fear that paedophilia and rape are rampant.

Our institutions are never more vulnerable than when in the throes of a moral panic.

Even if no one sets out to do ill, when we allow hot heads to prevail over cool ones, the inevitable chipping away of justice and fairness ensues.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and we must never forget that.